Iola, the central Wisconsin village that I have called home for the past 35+ years, is a town of about 1,100 souls. Most of them (at least it seemed that way) turned out Wednesday evening for a send-off for a local lad who's on his way to the NFL.
Austen Lane was born in Chicago, but moved to Iola as a two-year-old when his parents divorced and his mother moved back to her home town. The biggest kid in his class throughout his school days, he was a football, basketball and track star for Iola-Scandinavia High School, a school of about 200 students.
On Saturday, April 23, he became a fifth round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who traded up a few slots to get him as part of the team's revamping of its defensive line, which was frankly pitiful last season in pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
In the days leading up to the draft, every local business that had an outdoor sign had a "Good Luck" message posted for Lane. The signs changed to "Congratulations!" messages when his name was called at draft headquarters. While the Jaguars will never supplant the Packers as Iola's favorite NFL team, Jacksonville just acquired a whole lot of Wisconsin fans. I'd love to have the first shipment of replica jerseys with his name on the back; they will sell like hotcakes.
It's not just that Iola has its second NFL player (Dave Kreig was born here, though his family moved away when he was barely out of diapers), but rather than Austen Lane is universally liked and admired in town. He worked hard at his studies and athletics. His only offer of a full-ride came from Division I-AA Murray State in Kentucky. He made the most of that opportunity, but might not have been drafted if he hadn't made the most of a last-minute invitation to play in the Senior Bowl, where he returned a recovered fumble for a touchdown on national TV.
The kids in town worship him and to date he has proven himself to be an exceptional role model. His family hosted the send-off at the fitness center and he signed countless autographs for the youngsters. If Lane makes the team, I wouldn't be surprised if somebody chartered a bus to one of Jaguars games.
Naturally, when it became apparent that he was going to be drafted, I had to create a custom card. Until just before the draft, finding a good picture was difficult, but then they started popping up all over the internet. Actually, I found two that I really liked. I couldn't chose between them, so I made cards with both. I had the fronts all done, but had to wait for the draft to be able to finish the back.
With the number of "real" card companies dwindling, and the number of football card sets, as well, it might be that Austen Lane never gets an NFL card -- defensive linemen don't often make the checklist cut these days -- but at least he'll have these.